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Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

With its strong association to the holidays, homemade eggnog was a holiday tradition growing up. I always had a strong affinity for the wintery drink despite it being quite an acquired taste. Despite the hefty price tag at the store, this festive drink is fairly easy to make. Eggnog is best made the night before or early in the morning to give it enough time to chill.

Ingredients:

  • 12 large eggs, separated
  • 1 ½ c. sugar
  • 6 c. whole milk
  • 2 c. heavy cream
  • 1 Tbps. vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 2 c. bourbon or 1½ c. bourbon & ½ c. rum (optional)

Directions:

Separate yolks and whites.

Separate yolks and whites.

Separate eggs. Set aside egg whites.

Mix yolks and sugar until pale yellow.

Mix yolks and sugar until pale yellow.

In a bowl large, whisk together egg yolks and granulated sugar until thick and pale yellow. Set aside.

Add milk, cream, vanilla to pot.

Add milk, cream, vanilla to pot.

Combine milk, heavy cream and vanilla in a large pot. Slowly heat over medium heat until hot and just about to simmer.

Stir quickly to temper the mixture.

Stir quickly to temper the mixture.

Slowly pour the hot milk mixture into egg yolk mixture. Stir continuously to temper.*

The mixture will lose the white foam when it begins to thicken, then will coat a metal spoon when done.

The mixture will lose the white foam when it begins to thicken, then will coat a metal spoon when done.

Pour mixture back into pot. Heat over medium heat, stirring constantly—about 18-20 minutes. Mixture will thicken and coat a metal spoon. Do not allow mixture to boil or it will curdle.

Mix in nutmeg.

Mix in nutmeg.

Remove from heat. Stir in nutmeg. Cover and chill for 8 hours. Sticking the mixture in a freezer will speed along the process, but must be stirred frequently.

Beat until stiff peaks form.

Beat until stiff peaks form.

Once mixture is chilled, beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold egg whites into mixture. If desired, stir in bourbon/rum.

Before serving, sprinkle top with nutmeg.

Tips:

  • *Tempering the milk and egg yolk mixture prevents the eggs from cooking in the hot milk.
  • Did the egg and milk mixture begin curdling? Try vigorously whisking the mixture until smooth again.
  • When beating egg whites, make sure they’re room temperature and add ¼ tsp. salt or cream of tartar to stabilize whites.
  • If not adding the alcohol, eggnog may seem thick, but usually deflates with time. Because of this, I prefer to make mine the night before as I feel it always tastes better the following day.
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Looking for last minute holiday cookie ideas? This year, I chose a mix of traditional Christmas cookies along with the always popular Chocolate Chip Cookie. As usual, I have made some changes to the recipes, listing my suggestions below.

LEBKUCHEN (The Spice Cookbook yr 1964)

This traditional German Christmas cookie will keep for at least three months if kept in an airtight container. The flavor will improve with age and is best served 3-4 days after baking.

LebkuchenIngredients:

  • ¾ c. honey
  • ¾ c. sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp. lemon zest
  • 1 Tbps. milk
  • 2 ¾ c. sifted all-purpose flour
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • ½ tsp. ground cloves
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. ground allspice
  • ½ c. chopped citron
  • ½ c. chopped blanched almonds
  • Confectioners’ Sugar and Water Glaze*

Heat honey to boiling point (DO NOT BOIL) in a saucepan large enough for mixing dough. Stir in sugar. Beat in egg. Blend in lemon zest and milk.

Sift together flour, salt, cloves, cinnamon and allspice. Gradually stir into the honey-sugar mixture. Add citron and almonds. Chill dough overnight

Spread in 2 lightly greased and lightly floured 9”x9”x2” pans. Bake in a preheated oven (400F) 15 minutes or until done. While cookies are hot; quickly brush tops with Confectioners’ Sugar and Water Glaze. Cool in pans. Cut each square into 32 bars. Store airtight.

Yield: 64 bars

*Confectioners’ Sugar and Water Glaze

  • 4 tsp. water
  • 1 c. sifted confectioners’ sugar

Stir water into confectioners’ sugar. Mix well.

Yield: Glaze for a 9-inch square cake

Tip:

  • Try adding lemon zest to the glaze mixture for a little extra kick in flavor.
  • Also try rolling dough into 1-inch balls and bake for 7-10 minutes. While hot, lightly brush cookies with Confectioners’ Sugar and Water Glaze.

MEXICAN WEDDING CAKES (Betty Crocker’s Cookbook)

What cookie isn’t known by more names?

Mexican Wedding CakesIngredients:

  • 1 c. butter, softened
  • ½ c. powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 ¼ c. all-purpose flour
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • ¾ c. finely chopped nuts
  • Powdered sugar

Heat oven to 400F. Mix butter, ½ c. powdered sugar, and vanilla. Mix in flour, salt and nuts until dough holds together.

Shape into 1-inch balls. Place about 1-inch apart on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake until set, but not brown, 10-12 minutes.

Roll in powdered sugar while warm. Cool. Roll in powdered sugar again.

Yield: approximately 4 dozen cookies

Tip:

  • This dough can become very soft, so chill in the fridge for a few hours before rolling.

ROSETTES (Swedish Food)

A well-loved traditional Swedish fried cookie.

Ingredients:

  • 2 eggs
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/3 c. sugar
  • 1 c. flour
  • 2/3 c. heavy cream

To fry:

Deep fat or oil

Beat eggs, egg yolk, and cream together. Add flour and sugar. Stir until well blended. Let stand 2 hours.

Put rosette iron in cold fat to cover. Heat fat to 375F, remove iron, drain on absorbent paper and dip I nto well stirred batter. Hold coated iron over hot fat for a moment before dipping in. Cook until golden brown. Remove, slip rosette carefully from iron and drain on absorbent paper. Heat iron again and repeat. Sprinkle rosettes with sugar.

CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES (Betty Crocker’s Cookbook)

A simple cookie that is sure to please everyone!

Chocolate Chip CookiesIngredients:

  • ½ c. sugar
  • ½ c. packed brown sugar
  • 1/3 c. butter, softened
  • 1/3 c. shortening or oil
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 ½ c. all-purpose flour
  • ½ tsp. baking soda
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1 package (6 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips
  • ½ c. chopped nuts (optional)

Heat oven to 375F. Mix sugars, butter, shortening (or oil), egg and vanilla. Stir in remaining ingredients.

Drop dough by rounded teaspoonfuls about 2-inches apart onto ungreased cookie sheet. Bake until light brown, 8-10 minutes. Cool slightly before removing from cookie sheet.

Yield: approximately 3 ½ dozen cookies

Tips:

  • Add a little cinnamon for the perfect little something’ to kick up the flavor.
  • Short on time? Make a sheet cookie by doubling all ingredients and press dough into a foil-lined jelly roll pan. Bake at 350F for 20-25 minutes.

Interested in learning how to make Old-fashioned Fudge to add to your arsenal of Christmas baked goods? Check out How to Make Old-fashioned Fudge and Fix Mistakes for simple, step-by-step instructions.

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Old-fashioned FudgeOld-fashioned fudge (without marshmallows!) has a reputation for being finicky and tough. It will quickly tire arms out—my mom even has stories of sharing the efforts of fudge making with her siblings. Making fudge has been a bane in my baking existence for several years. I couldn’t get it to set no matter how cautious I was with measurements and temperature. Through my search for a good recipe, I have found one that has yet to fail me with resolutions to prevent and fix common mistakes.

I have had no problems with the following recipe. The fudge has always turned out completely smooth. I use a hand mixer with no ill effects and it does not get grainy if I overbeat. I was even able to fix it when I didn’t cook it enough due to a candy thermometer that wasn’t calibrated correctly (Correct calibration is essential). Testing for soft ball* stage does work as I have successfully made it this way as well. The most important thing is making sure to watch the fudge and the temperatures throughout the entire cooking process.

Ingredients (Recipe from – Better Homes & Garden: The New Cook Book yr.1965):

  • 2 c. sugar
  • ¾ c. milk
  • 2 1-ounce squares of unsweetened chocolate
  • Dash of salt
  • 1 tsp. corn syrup**
  • 2 Tbps. butter
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • ½ c. chopped nuts (optional)***

Getting Started

Butter the sides of a heavy saucepan—this will prevent the sugar from sticking and crystalizing.Old-fashioned Fudge

Combine sugar, milk, unsweetened chocolate, salt and corn syrup.Old-fashioned Fudge

Cook over a medium heat, stirring constantly until sugar dissolves and mixture is boiling.

Lower temperature to a simmer and do not stir unless necessary. Cook until it reaches 234F or soft ball stage***.Old-fashioned Fudge

Immediately remove from heat and cool in cold water (no ice) until it reaches 110F. While cooling, add butter on top of mixture—do not stir.

Once cool, add vanilla.Old-fashioned Fudge

Beat fudge—this will get tiring, so either find a few extra, willing arms; however, I always cheat and use a hand mixer. Once the fudge thickens and loses its gloss, pour into a buttered pan.

***Optionally, stir in nuts at the end of the beating time.Old-fashioned Fudge

Fixing Mistakes

  • Too thick: If fudge became too thick during beating (Oops! The hand mixer can be overzealous), knead with hands until it softens then press into buttered pan or roll and slice. Optionally, cut cute shapes with cookie cutters!
  • Too soft: If it doesn’t set, it was either poured too soon (Tired arms! Give me a break!) or wasn’t cooked enough. Fix by mixing in ¼ c. milk and recooking to 234F or soft ball stage. Cool to 110F. Beat until it loses gloss.Testing for soft ball stage

*Testing for Soft Ball Stage

Test for soft ball stage (234F-238F) by dropping mixture into a bowl of cold water (no ice). If ready, mixture will hold shape and can be formed into a soft ball between your fingers.

**Substitute Corn Syrup

If you do not have corn syrup, you may make a substitute sugar syrup by combining:

  • 2 c. sugar
  • 3/4 c. water
  • 1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
  • 1 pinch salt

Heat until boiling. Lower heat to a simmer and put lid on for 3 minutes to soften any sugar crystals. Cook until it arrives at 234F, or soft ball stage. Syrup will keep for approximately two months. I have tried this and it does work—I never have corn syrup around.

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Aaand again with the decade between my posts. There are no words. I simply get distracted by everything else around me, and it doesn’t help that I typically sink into a mild winter funk of tired sluggishness. The early darkness does it, or something. This happens even when the winter is mild as ours has been so far. We’ve only had one ‘snow storm’ of a few inches so far, and the snow only lasted two days before melting. It’s a far cry from some of the winters of my childhood.

A trespassing thief stole my trail camera already, making my Thanksgiving-time quite grumpy-like. Regular season deer hunting has come and gone. I shot a nice doe on opening day that would’ve given me fodder for a few posts if I had thought about it at the time. I used some of her for jerky, made hot Italian sausage, and doubled the family recipe for korv as well. This is on top of the number of roasts I saved (and the butchery that came before all that).  Oh well. Maybe next time. For now,  the upcoming holiday season gave me a different idea for a quick, easy, and money-saving thing to share with you all.

Here at SVF, we grew our own Christmas trees for many years out of a patch of conifers my dad planted some decades ago. I love the smell of their boughs. The fresh, bold scent seems to lift my spirits, and their green color defies the weather even when everything else is grey. However, things have changed and grown up since I was younger, and now the trees are all too big for that purpose (maybe we could use just one branch? :P). Due to changes in our family, though, we rarely ever have a Christmas tree anymore anyway.

Even so, I don’t have to miss out on the experience. It’s easy to make a homemade wreath out of conifer boughs and it doesn’t require cutting down or even really injuring a tree. They take up very little space and can be put in ‘extra’ areas like the backs of doors or corners of walls – perfect for someone with little floor space. It also saves the expense of buying, for those who enjoy wreaths.

All you need:

  • – Cutting tools (I use a hunting knife and any pair of scissors. Pruning snips are great too)
  • – String/twine (I like a natural fiber brown twine as it blends in better and is completely biodegradable after, but you can use anything you have laying around)
  • – Pine, spruce, or fir tree with branches low enough to be reached safely

You may want to wear gloves if you don’t like your hands getting any sap on them. However, I find that it isn’t that big of an issue, and fresh sap doesn’t seem to be as gooey as old sap anyway. I’ve never had a problem.

You do not NEED a ‘form’ for making a wreath under any circumstances. It’s a mistake to think you do. However, if you’re really struggling with it, you can do something as simple as bend an old wire clothes hanger into a circle, and that will generally suffice as a guide.

firgroup

The best type of tree to use is up to you. You can use any conifer, but I chose my balsam firs. You may want to decide based on what you have access to. Make sure to ask the landowner if you want to go on private property! You can also often find discarded trimmings at tree farms or nurseries/stores that sell large quantities of ‘live’ Christmas trees. Just ask someone working there. The worst you get is a no.

Firs have needles that are flat/two-sided and generally single on the branches. They also tend to have ‘softer’ needles that don’t stab your feet as much when they fall off and end up on your floor. Pines generally have needles in bunches of 2-5 that tend to be longer and more ‘feathery’. They are soft, but tend to be more sparse looking and harder to make a pretty wreath out of. Spruces have 4-sided/’square’ needles (in cross-section), and though they tend to be good-looking, they are very pointy when dry and underfoot. These facts add to the reason I chose my firs.

Select some branches and trim them from the tree. You’ll want to use the ends of branches if the tree is large, as they bend more easily and have more needles. It helps if you can select ones that are naturally a bit curved, but it isn’t a necessity. Once you have some branches, arrange them to form a framework, and tie them together. If you need to, pick them up and gently but firmly bend them, working them with your hands. They will take on more of a shape you need with some coaxing. You can also partially break them if necessary, damaging the inner pith but leaving the bark intact so it stays together.

After I have my beginning ‘circle’, I trim off my twine ends, and remove any really too-long or dangly offshoots and put them into another pile. It’s good to leave some on the base branches, though – use the twine to tie them down a bit so they’re not all straggly and so they conform to your base circular shape. Keep tidying up your twine ends as you go, clipping them close so they don’t stick out.

I’m left with thinner trimmings like this. It’s never enough, though, so I go back to the tree and select some more small offshoots of the branches. You’ll need a nice little pile. I prefer to make my wreath right next to the tree, so I can take more as I go if I need to, but if you want to make it inside or at another location, clip extra so you don’t run out. It’s better to have too much than not enough.

Lay them along the shape of your rough wreath and eyeball them. See how they look, and arrange them so they’re pleasing to the eye. You can do this however you prefer. If you like them all pointing in one direction, do it. Prefer them to go opposite ways and meet at the top or bottom? Do it. Prefer a jumbly arrangement? Whatever you like is fine! Tie them down with the twine. You can make effort to hide the twine if you want, burying it under the needles, but as you add branches, you’ll find that it becomes hidden on its own. Some don’t even need to be tied down, either. Just ‘thread’ them in between the other limbs and branches, and they’ll stay down on their own.

After some tucking, I got this, but it wasn’t quite full enough for me, so I trimmed a few more limb ends…

After I got this, I thought it wasn’t too bad! It was giving off a lovely scent, too.

I set it on my stoop and walked over to my Norway spruces, which drop long, thin cones. I easily found a few good, clean samples, and tucked them into the wreath as a decoration. I used no glue or anything, just careful placement. You can do this with any kind of cones, leaves, grasses, or any other decoration you’d like to add. For stubborn things like really big pine cones, bury the bottoms in the pine foliage and use twine to tie them on. If it still won’t stay in place for some reason, you CAN hot glue it in there, but I’ve never found it necessary.

And there you have it… a decent looking wreath, and it didn’t cost me anything, because all I used was stuff I already had or that was growing around me. Just loop it over a hanger you might already have, or just tie a circle of twine on top and hang it from any old nail in the wall like I do. 🙂

This was a quick one, too. If you spend even more time with it, you can orient the branches just perfectly to how you like it, and get one that looks even more fabulous to you.

Happy holidays!

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